When Fallout 3 launched, my roommates and I all retreated to our separate rooms to play the intro. When we emerged, we all had different stories. One snuck by the overseer. The other talked to them. As is often the case with me, I shot first and apologized afterward.
Bethesda’s open-world games seem to swing between spectacular introductions or less inspired ones. Morrowind had you fill out paperwork before kicking you out into the world so you could watch a hapless mage plummet from the sky. Daggerfall drops you into a very beginner-unfriendly dungeon. Fallout 4 leaves you to witness the end of the world. Then there’s Starfield.
Starfield asks you to look at some rocks. Then it kicks you into one of the greyest vistas we’ve seen since the late aughts, just to prep you for more tutorials.
It could be better.
To be clear, I’m not down on Starfield. I typically like Bethesda open-world games, and while I’m not super jazzed about the “NASA-punk” aesthetic and planet-hopping, I’ll probably fall into the groove of it eventually.
I also don’t think a game needs to grab you in the first X amount of hours. It should do so before you have the chance to lose interest, but that varies between games. The only time you need to grab someone within minutes is when you’re pitching an idea to someone who has their wallet in hand.
The Starfield opening didn’t make me immediately hit the brakes, but I did roll my eyes a few times. So, I’m definitely not condemning the game, but I never pass up the chance for critical analysis.
As a warning, this article spoils a portion of the Starfield opening in detail. It’s all stuff that happens during the tutorial, but if you want to go in knowing nothing, play it first. You can circle back around later.
Hey, are you awake?
You start the game as a faceless miner. There’s an indication you’re going somewhere important, but on the way there, you’re forced to stop and learn about harvesting minerals with a laser. Then, you move to the next room and find the all-important relic. You’ll touch it and have visions of Laser Zeppelin. It’s exactly like Mass Effect, only you have no idea what the stakes are. You also won’t for the remainder of the introduction.
I at least appreciate the immediacy conveyed in Starfield’s opening. You really get the sense it absolutely can’t wait to kick you out into the open world. You design a face and a backstory. Then it’s time to go topside to look at more sci-fi crates and barren wasteland. It’s somehow less interesting than Fallout 3’s Capitol Wasteland reveal but still better than Daggerfall’s endless stretch of foggy flatness.
Finally, some guy rolls up and lands his ship to show you how awesome starship ownership is. Pirates trickle in after him, so you get to shoot something to break things up. Then the guy’s just like, “Have my ship. Enjoy your adventure!”
I’m only half-embellishing that. The dialogue goes from zero to get-the-fuck-out-of-here in no time flat. People say that touching the artifact has given you some sort of special purpose, but no one will tell you what that is. They’re just like, “You’re part of something bigger now,” but refuse to elaborate. Are you dying? Maybe. Do you have superpowers? Doesn’t seem like it. Just get in the ship and shut up.
You’re part of this now
You barely have time to adjust the seat and get into orbit before your new sassy droid partner yells, “Oh shit, I hope you know space combat because here come pirates!” And then you fight them. Again, the immediacy is impressive. I appreciate that Starfield trusts me to win a life-or-death situation with very little instruction. Because I can, and I did. I just feel like people should make a bigger deal of it.
Does everyone fight in space? Is space combat the future’s equivalent to parallel parking, where you’re expected to know how to do it and ridiculed if you don’t?
So you murder pirates, and then instead of running away, your sassy robot tells you it’s time to go space-murder even more pirates. He’s like, “They might jeopardize our mission?” Sure, guy. I’m pretty sure that pirates are simply opportunistic muggers, and they’ll forget about us once we’ve gone to another star system. You can just tell me you want to murder a bunch of dudes. I’ll understand; totally normal stuff.
But before you get into the first dungeon, Starfield says it’s time to scan stuff. I guess this is to get across that space-explorer feel, but I’ve just about reached my limit of scanning squirrels. I’m pretty sure this is more or less optional, but it seems like a strange distraction to have on the road to shooting dudes. It’s also weird to me that it’s all right outside of an abandoned research base. Like, no one stopped for a moment to take a picture of the rocks?
Juice ain’t worth the squeeze
You go looting your way through a dungeon. It’s pretty routine, something I’d expect from a game like Starfield’s opening hours. At one point, having already picked two locks, my robot companion points to a safe and asks, “Did you know you can pick locks?” Yeah, I got that. Thanks.
We go up to the roof where the boss pirate is waiting. Once again, I shoot first before even considering that I might be able to talk to them. I’m honestly not sure if that’s an option. I’m sorry. I saw an explosive barrel next to their shins and shot it. It’s a reflex.
Finally, it’s back into the ship and a space-jump over to the first city. You take in your surroundings and then head to the space-researcher smoking lounge, where people who touch space-rocks hang out. Once again, no one can tell me why I’m special or how I’m suddenly part of “bigger things.” How do they know that there are even bigger things to be part of? No one seems to know what’s going on. “It’s a mystery,” they say.
One thing that did raise my eyebrows is that someone in the room tried to justify the reason that I could just fly off in any direction I wanted. They said they took precautions to make sure the ship only went to the places they wanted it to.
I’m sorry, so space-assassination was part of your itinerary? They could have just not tried to explain why I was momentarily locked on the critical path, and I would have just accepted it as someone who understands the language of video games. Instead, it just raises questions, and the only answer is that the space-explorers plotted a route that was to pick up space rock, murder, and lunch.
Follow my one simple rule
There are a lot of other nitpicks one could make with Starfield, but that would be disingenuous. I understand what kind of game this is and the eccentricities that come with the design. Yeah, the way characters talk to you in normal dialogue is twitchy and weird, but I understand the need for procedural and canned animations.
I just think that, as an introduction to the story and world, the Starfield opening is pretty weak. Rather than slowly immersing you into the mechanics and concepts, it does a whole bunch of handwaving to kick you out the door as fast as possible. In the process, it forgets to give you any sort of motivation, establishes nothing to ground you in its universe, and just comes off as goofy in the process.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. I have a hundred or so hours left for Starfield to click with me. If I were reviewing the game, I’d likely have forgotten this first road bump in the larger analysis of things. But while I’m here, I might as well ridicule the choice of dinnerware.
Staff Writer – Zoey is a gaming gadabout. She got her start blogging with the community in 2018 and hit the front page soon after. Normally found exploring indie experiments and retro libraries, she does her best to remain chronically uncool.